So, Elvis had me running again. This time, I was off to Broad Street Station, once known as Union Station of Richmond, and now home to the Science Museum of Virginia. The word for this building is grand. With immense doric columns, a 105-foot-tall dome, and an broad oval lawn leading up to the structure, it commands respect.
Designed by New York architect John Russell Pope, Broad Street Station opened on January 6, 1919, and at the height of operations during World War II, the facility saw thousands of riders and more than 50 trains a day coming and going, up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Passengers--originating in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Providence, New York City, and everywhere else--were funneled down to D.C. and then to Richmond, the central hub for all points south.
So, how does Elvis fit into this picture of rail travel? If you're up on your "Elvis at 21" trivia, you'll know that the singer did a rehearsal for "The Steve Allen Show" in New York City on June 29, 1956 (the one with the tuxedo and hound dog). Al Wertheimer shot photos of the skits and then boarded a late-night train at Penn Station. Destination: Richmond, Virginia, where Elvis would perform two evening shows at The Mosque.
Elvis pulled into the train station the morning of June 30, 1956. The scene was a reflection of the times--men in fedoras, women in pumps, their hard, plastic suitcases resting on long mahogany benches in an elegant waiting area. Of course, that part of the building was for whites only. The east side of the station (now adjacent to the Department of Motor Vehicles) was for African American patrons and was considerablely less grand than the space adjacent to it.
As he walked up the concourse from the train platform, Elvis would have seen the hallway leading to the "colored" facilities and gotten a glimpse of the big, bustling lobby. But, he turned down a solitary corridor, looking for a cab to take him over to the the Jefferson Hotel, about two miles away. According to local historian Tom Driscoll (who not only knows everything about the train station but also used to hang out with his grandfather--a cabbie at Broad Street Station--back in the 1950s and '60s), the west corridor in the back of the building led out to the taxi stand. Could this have been the hallway where Wertheimer snapped the image?
Tom's stories piqued my interest and provided fodder for some forensic field work. Next stop: The "Elvis hallway."
Jump to the last story in this series . . .